I have been so busy lately that I haven’t been able to sit down* for more than a few minutes at a time with a book. I read “Asymmetry” by Lisa Halliday in quick snatches, mainly on the tube, which seemed to work, given that it is a gently paced novel, albeit a baffling one. “Asymmetry” is unique, in that the first and second halves are completely different. They are written in different styles, involve entirely different characters and are set in different countries, with no reference to each other. Whilst I had an inkling that this would be the case when I started the book, I spent the entire second half in a state of moderate distress contemplating its entire purpose. I practically inhaled the last few pages, so eager was I for the big reveal- the connection between the halves.
The first half of the novel centres on a young woman Alice, and her relationship with well known Pulitzer Prize winning writer Ezra Blazer, a man some fifty years her senior. I was enraptured by the balances of power in their relationship; she being the more robust physically, but he the instigator of all meetings (it is not clear whether she even has his number), the provider of numerous (quite strange) gifts, and the proponent for keeping their relationship strictly under wraps, even going to the (somewhat unnecessary) lengths of giving Alice the pseudonym Samantha Bargeman around other people. I did find myself wondering if Alice’s name was a nod to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (Lewis Carroll famously being quite taken with a real-life young Alice) and “The End of Alice,” by A. M. Homes, whose narrator was a paedophile serving a prison sentence relating to his young victim Alice. In any case, Asymmetry’s Alice is in her twenties, and whilst it felt like the novel was daring readers to disapprove, I found some real tenderness there, and I thought I had it sussed as a character driven novel.
But the second half threw me. Told from the perspective of an Iraqi American man who has been detained at Heathrow airport, we are delivered an account of his life in Iraq and elsewhere, and I just couldn’t get into it. Perhaps this was because I was often silently and insanely screaming “Where are Alice and Ezra?!” Perhaps this was because I felt a tiny bit cheated, I don’t know. In any case, when I saw that I was only fifty two percent in on my Kindle, my heart sank.
The last tiny part of the book is Ezra Blazer’s Desert Island Discs, where he has some banter on a radio show and selects his favourite records. This was weird, but hey. By this time, anything was possible, and in any case, I was just so happy to see Ezra again. But when the big reveal came, it was subtly done, and felt like an anti-climax. It was only afterwards, having done a bit of research online, that I discovered that the novel’s writer Lisa Halliday had allegedly had a relationship with the much older legendary writer Philip Roth. This put things into a little more context, and I slowly started realising various metaphors and statements throughout the novel, which began landing on me like tiny scholarly birds. But if the entire point of “Asymmetry” is to be symbolic and meta, then this could be at the expense of quite a bit of enjoyment from its readers.
Plot: 3.5 / 5
Writing 4 / 5
Characters 4 / 5
Overall Enjoyment 3.5 / 5
Total Score: 75%
*Okay, lie down. A lot of my reading is performed strictly horizontally.